"Our officers became aware that this warehouse and those that rented it hosted prolific taggers from California to come to Portland. They tagged inside and outside the warehouse and our officers believed tagged at other locations around the City," writes Portland police spokesman Lt. Robert King. The Office of Neighborhood Involvement and the police target graffiti because they believe it contributes to other, more serious, crimes in areas that look uncared for.
This week, the gallery and four other businesses that share its space in the old Hair of the Dog brewery on SE 23rd Avenue and Holgate were evicted over the graffiti issues. Durham says his landlord, the city's two graffiti abatement officers, and a locksmith showed up Tuesday morning and told them their lease was moot.
While the police say the gallery's artists are responsible for illegal graffiti in the neighborhood, the gallery owners say their intention was to reduce graffiti and that they were targeted simply for hosting a show devoted to street art.
"They specifically kicked us out because they didn't like our art," says Durham. "There's been graffiti on this building for 10 years. The cops think we're trying to promote graffiti and that's the opposite of what we're trying to do."
For Special Delivery, 25 artists created graffiti-style murals on panels, canvasses, and directly on the walls inside and outside of The Railyard building. Photos of the show are here and the July 4th opening attracted several hundred people. Durham and other people involved in the gallery say the show was supposed to be a kickoff for their initiative to turn the industrial area into a "mural district" where the city and business owners would sign off on letting people do street art murals on the old warehouses and factories.
But the event instead created a tense relationship with the police.
Serre Murphy runs Samo Lives Gallery on SE 39th and Gladstone and was hosting a show by one of the Special Delivery artists, Chris Moon, also on July 4th. Murphy says graffiti officer Anthony Zanetti showed up to the opening.
"He started yelling at me, telling me that I was responsible for graffiti around the Railyard. He said, 'You know when you walk into a bar and you walk out and get a DUI? It's the bar's responsibility,'" says Murphy. The side of Murphy's gallery is covered in a mural, which he admits he didn't follow the proper city process to get approved because he wanted to change the image every few months. Murphy says Officer Zanetti said he would be fined $500 for that mural.
"We haven't done any tagging. All we've done is beautiful artwork. Some people may not like it, but it's beautiful artwork," says Murphy, who is likely now planning to paint over the mural to stay out of trouble with the police.
After stopping by Samo Lives Gallery, Officer Zanetti proceeded to the Railyard and, with reportedly a half dozen other officers, began pulling over cars leaving the gallery and then phoned the gallery's landlord.
The area around The Railyard is a rough industrial part of town, next to the train tracks. There is certainly plenty of graffiti in the area. But The Railyard and police disagree on whether new graffiti is the gallery's fault.
Neighbor and furniture builder Brian Gualtieri says there has been graffiti on the former brewery for years. "I've been in the space eight years, we have sometimes gone up on the roof and scraped stuff off," says Gualtieri. "The last time the landlord got graffiti removed was five years ago."
Over the past month, the landlord and Durham have emailed back and forth about the paintings on the Railyard walls, but Durham thought they were in agreement until the officers and landlord arrived with an eviction notice.
The police can not discuss details over the number of officers on the scene or whether there have been any arrests of artists with a connection to the gallery because it's an ongoing investigation, says Lt. King.
For now, Durham and friends are scrambling to move their gallery, two screenprinting studios, a construction company HQ, and a recording studio out of the building in a matter of days.
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